The Toronto Rock enter the 2013 National Lacrosse League campaign with one goal on their minds: Win the championship.
The Rock have won the Champion's Cup six times in their storied history and looked poised to take yet another run at it in 2012.
But after finishing the season in first place in the East Division with a 9-7 record, they were upset in the second round of the playoffs by the Rochester Knighthawks, who went on to win it all.
After getting to the final in the previous two seasons—and winning it in 2011—coming up short was a bitter pill to swallow.
The Rock finished 2012 with the fourth-most goals (198) and fourth-fewest goals against (196). Following a couple of moves, Toronto is now primed to improve on both of those numbers in the new year.
The offense for this squad should be among the NLL's very best. The front five are all experienced and dangerous and there are more excellent options on the second line as well.
Garrett Billings finished the season in second place in the league's scoring race with 114 points. Along the way, he led the Rock in goals (32) and set the NLL single-season record for assists (82).
Stephan LeBlanc emerged as a legitimate first-tier scorer with 28 goals and 65 points, overall.
Josh Sanderson (64 points) and team captain Colin Doyle (59 points) once again provided an offensive punch, giving Toronto a ton of weapons up front.
Blaine Manning missed most of 2012 while recovering from an early season injury, and when he got back, he wasn't quite the factor he historically has been. With the summer to fully recover, he should be back to his usual, dangerous self.
Kasey Beirnes stepped up in Manning's absence and racked up 53 points, plus a team-leading 12 power-play goals.
If that wasn't enough, the Rock added veteran rightie Scott Evans in the offseason. Evans picked up 47 points in 12 games last year with the Edmonton Rush and has looked good in preseason games thus far as well.
On defense, there are also a number of familiar faces.
Sandy Chapman led the Rock in loose balls collected in 2012 with 83 and chipped in 11 points as well.
Chapman is again joined in the backcourt by Stephen Hoar (65 loose balls, 12 forced turnovers), Cam Woods (72 loose balls, team-leading 16 forced turnovers), Jesse Gamble (5 loose balls) and Patrick Merrill (44 loose balls), giving Toronto a solid, experienced group of defenders.
Rookie Kyle Belton will be looking to add extra depth to the defensive squad.
Between the pipes, Nick Rose returns as the No. 1 goalie. After coming over from the Calgary Roughnecks midseason, Rose went 5-1 in the homestretch with an excellent 10.69 goals against average.
With what should be an improved offense, a steady, proven defense and last year's early season goaltending issues looking now to be solved, Toronto looks like a team ready to challenge for their seventh Champion's Cup.
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